American Jewish Archives receives $500,000 grant

Adding the vast Jewish Federation of North America collection to AJA’s archive will make Cincinnati home to the world’s largest cataloged collection on American Jewish history

The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives is seen in Cinncinati, Ohio. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives is seen in Cinncinati, Ohio.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives (AJA) was awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities’s (NEH) much-coveted $500,000 grant, its executive director Gary Zola announced earlier this week.
The grant will allow the AJA to construct a four-story building to house and archive a collection of millions of documents belonging to the Jewish Federations of North America (JNFA), to be built on the campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati.
“We are most grateful to the NEH for this crucial grant award,” Zola said.
In order for the AJA to complete the accession of the monumentally important collection, a new facility has become essential. JFNA selected the AJA to receive its collections, which comprises 8,000 archival boxes, and approximately 6,500 linear feet of documents and related materials.
Zola added that the additional space was crucial, since the sheer size of the JFNA collection means that all available space remaining in the 4,830 sq. m. Marcus Repository Building would not be able to hold it all.
According to HUC-JIR president Andrew Rehfeld, the JFNA collection is invaluable in understanding the influence the organization and its predecessors had in shaping the experience and culture of American Jewry.
“Jewish Federations sustained the institutional structures required to build strong Jewish communities – where individuals could live with dignity, meaning and purpose, and where Judaism in all of its variety was part of a life well lived,” he said.
“The model of communal collective responsibility begun in the late 19th century would become the model of the United Way in the United States. These papers tell the story of our people’s confrontation with modernity in North America: from our immigrant roots, to our connection with world Jewry throughout the urgent existential crises of the 20th Century. These priceless records will uncover new insights into the evolution of American Jewish communal life.”
JFNA’s president and CEO Eric D. Fingerhut stated that he was “thrilled at the news that this major NEH matching grant has been given to the American Jewish Archives. This award ensures that the archives of the United Jewish Appeal and Council of Jewish Federations, our predecessor organizations, are housed in a setting where they will be properly curated by the expert archivists at the AJA. Upon completion, they will be added to the AJA’s web presence as a major manuscript collection. This will make the entire collection available to scholars, researchers, students and educators throughout the world.”
The AJA currently houses over 10 million pages of documentation, and contains 8,000 linear feet of archives. Adding the vast JFNA collection to the AJA will make Cincinnati home to the world’s largest catalogued collection of evidence and documents on American Jewish history.
The grant is merely one of the many grants totaling at $30.9 million given by NEH to 188 humanities projects across the US.
“These new NEH grants will expand access to the country’s wealth of historical, literary and artistic resources by helping archivists and curators care for important heritage collections, and using new media to inspire examination of significant texts and ideas,” said NEH chairman Jon Parrish Peede.
“In keeping with NEH’s A More Perfect Union initiative, these projects will open pathways for students to engage meaningfully with the humanities and focus public attention on the history, culture and political thought of the United States’ first 250 years as a nation.”
HUC-JIR is the largest Jewish studies seminary in North America, with campuses in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York and Jerusalem.
The AJA was founded in 1947 by Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus, a historian famous for his extensive research on the origins and development of American Jewry. Over 70 years after its founding, the AJA continues to preserve the records of Jewish life and learning, serving as one of the most preeminent centers of Jewish historical study.